Explore My City Guest Blogger Sol Solntze from Kidding Herself
The Red Square & the Kremlin
If you are coming to Moscow for the first time, with or without children, then Red Square and the Kremlin are a bit of a must.
That said, I am here to tell you that if you have young children it might not be a good idea to go inside the Kremlin proper. There are long queues for tickets, minimal refreshments once inside, and the main attraction is a square surrounded by architecturally and historically interesting cathedrals, with minimal acknowledgement that a visitor might not know why they are architecturally and historically interesting. Especially a young visitor. It’s not the most thrilling place for young minds, even if they have added a changing of the guard ceremony recently and you can look at a giant cracked bell. Close up!
Instead, I recommend touring St Basil’s on Red Square itself. OK, it is another church, but this time you get to clamber up and round a very brightly coloured selection of intriguingly twisty staircases and go from one mysterious, brightly coloured, intimate chamber to another. Castles, eat your heart out. Medieval Orthodox churches are where it’s at.
Plus, everyone always confuses St Basil’s with Kremlin anyway, so who would know you hadn’t been around the centre of Russian presidential power for real?
Red Square also still plays host that most ghoulish of tourist attractions, the actual mummified body of Lenin. I have not taken my under tens to see it, but if your kids are older, or have a particularly strong constitution, they might find it… [insert your own adjective here].
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Shopping with kids in Moscow
You should definitely take them into the luxury department store GUM, which borders the Red Square. Look up, admire the roof – it’s a work of pre-revolutionary engineering genius – and have ice cream, a Muscovite tradition. Yes, even in the winter.
Perfect for après ice skating, which is another very family-friendly Moscow activity on Red Square during the snow-covered months from December to March. And around Christmas and New Year there will also be a fair, with rides, street food and handicraft stalls in this, the very centre of Russia’s capital.
Stepping a few hundred metres up a pedestrianised side street, studiously ignoring the headquarters of the KGB opposite, you will find the recently renovated Central Children’s Store at Lubyanka. The name really does not do justice to how very fabulous it is – a giant multi-floor department store dedicated to toys, toys, toys, yet more toys, children’s clothes, children’s entertainment experiences, a cinema, toys, play areas, toys, toys, junk food outlets, a museum of toys, toys, toys, and, you guessed it, toys.
It has the biggest Hamley’s in the world, and this is only a small part of what you can find there. It also has a really cool viewing platform that even people without kids should go and look down on Moscow from.
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Something you’ll be able to see from up there is the Moscow river, which has boat tours in the warmer months. One of the river trip companies even has special family boats, with a dedicated children’s play area and staff to watch your kids while you kick back and enjoy the sights. The other has a commentary to help you understand them. You’ll have to take your pick, unfortunately, but either way, it will be enjoyable, and a very pleasant relief from what could well be the scorching summer sun. Moscow summers are short but usually very sharp.
The sights you will drift past include Red Square, St Basil’s and the Kremlin (again), but also a former chocolate factory turned trendy arts centre, a giant statue of Peter the Great, the tallest skyscrapers in Europe, more cathedrals and monasteries, and Gorky Park.
You can get off the boat at Gorky Park, and you probably should as it is a fun place to hang out for families in Moscow with formal flower-filled gardens, but also boating lakes, playgrounds, places to hire bikes and other pedalled transportation, a small funfair, a beach volleyball court and an urban beach (both with actual sand), a fountain which dances to classical music, lots of cafes, restaurants and ice cream kiosks, and a modern art gallery.
In winter Gorky Park also has an ice rink, and it’s huge. None of your rectangular sheets of ice – they turn the paths into a giant skating labyrinth. You can hire skates and someone to show you how to do it, and when you are tired, you can rest up with refreshments bought from the cafe kiosks which line the route.
Nevertheless, it’s not as big as the skating rink at VDNH, the ex-Soviet exhibition space, where, as well as gliding around the biggest outdoor skating complex in the world, you can also admire the amazing buildings you are passing between. But do not neglect this venue in summer either there are all sorts of indoor and outdoor attractions calculated to appeal to the family traveller, from urban farms and aquariums to a robot show and a space museum. It’s not really in the centre of Moscow, but it is easy enough to get to.
This is just scratching the surface of how child-friendly Moscow can be. Add to this that Russians really like (well-behaved) kids and the fact that you will get actual smiles out of them as you show your small people about and you are surely onto a winner.
If you can stomach the legendarily time and cash consuming visa process, Moscow is well worth a visit with children.
About the Blogger
Sol is a Brit living in Moscow with her Russian husband and two children. You can learn more about their Moscow life and follow their adventures here:
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